‘Blond Angel’ gives himself up to Interpol

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Reuters

One of the most infamous death squad leaders of Argentina’s 1976-1983 “Dirty War” dictatorship, Alfredo Astiz, turned himself in to police early on Monday after an Italian court sought his arrest.

The former navy captain, known as “The Blond Angel” for his cherubic looks, was ordered detained by an Argentine judge at the request of an Italian court which linked Astiz to the 1976 kidnappings of Angela Maria Aieta and the 1977 kidnapping of Giovani Pegoraro and his pregnant daughter, Susana Pegoraro.

“He turned himself in to Interpol and now he’s at (federal) police headquarters accompanied by a lawyer waiting the judge’s instructions,” a federal police spokeswoman told Reuters.

Astiz was transferred to a Coast Guard detention cell at 2 a.m. (0500 GMT) awaiting a court hearing, the spokeswoman added but could not say whether this might lead to his extradition.

There is evidence that Susana Pegoraro gave birth to a daughter, who is living under the name Evelyn Vazquez in the port city of Mar del Plata some 250 miles (400 kms) south of Buenos Aires, Clarin and La Nacion newspapers said on Sunday.

During Argentina’s dictatorship, pregnant women detained by the military were often killed after giving birth and their babies stolen to be raised by military families.

Also dubbed the “Angel of Death,” Astiz once boasted to Argentine magazine Trespuntos in 1998, in what he claimed was an off-the-record talk, that he was “the best-trained man in Argentina to kill journalists and politicians.”

He tried to justify his activities as part of a “task force” operating out of the infamous Navy School for Mechanics (ESMA) in the bloody campaign against leftist guerrillas and suspected sympathizers after the military coup in 1976.

“I’m not sorry for anything,” he told the magazine, which earned him a three-month suspended jail sentence last year.

Astiz has also been accused of infiltrating the rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in the ’70s and of the kidnapping and murder of two French nuns, a 15-year old Swedish girl and many Argentines, according to human rights groups.

Argentina compensated Swedish teen Dagmar Hagelin’s father Ragnar last year with an undisclosed sum.

Dagmar Hagelin was living in the Argentine capital when she was abducted by a squad from the ESMA, one of the most infamous torture centers of Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship. They are believed to have mistaken her for another target.

Her body has never been found but Astiz is wanted by Swedish courts for Dagmar Hagelin’s kidnap and murder.

Astiz cannot be prosecuted in Argentina for murder or torture committed during the dictatorship since he is protected under the so called Full Stop and Due Obedience laws enacted in 1986 and 1987 when Argentina tried to reckon with its past.

But baby thefts were not included in those immunity laws, and it was on those grounds that the Italian court asked Argentine federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria to have Astiz arrested, the newspapers said.

An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 dissidents were killed or simply disappeared during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. They are presumed to have been killed.

Astiz narrowly escaped extradition to France in 1982 after he surrendered to British troops in the Falklands, and in 1990 a French court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison.